Academic journal article Shofar

Where Are the Flies? Where Is the Smoke? the Real and Super-Real in Mel Gibson's the Passion

Academic journal article Shofar

Where Are the Flies? Where Is the Smoke? the Real and Super-Real in Mel Gibson's the Passion

Article excerpt

First of all, I have to make confession: I really did not want to see this film. I wasn't reluctant because I thought that the message conveyed about Jews and/or Christians, ancient and/or modern, might prove "problematic" (as we scholars like to say when we want to choose a polite word for something we do not like for one reason or another). If anything, the problematic potential of Mel Gibson's The Passion was more of an inducement to go see it than a disincentive. Truth be told: I'm squeamish. I do not like depictions of blood and gore, nor do I get much of a charge out of graphic violence, gratuitous or otherwise. I never could sit through all of Schindler's List and as for Jurassic Park, my lack of intestinal fortitude sent me ducking and cringing every time some evil raptor began to rattle its cage. I don't even go near a slasher film. Early word from those who boldly rushed in where I feared to tread confirmed my worse fears: If I were going to see this movie, I would have to endure a veritable Nightmare on the Via Dolorosa. I knew myself better than that: No question -- I would rather sit this one out.

Still, as I began to read and hear more and more about the movie from its fans and critics, certain prominent, salient themes came to the forefront that began to pique my curiosity. In particular, I kept hearing about how authentic everything was: This was no "greatest story ever told" in the Cecil B. DeMille manner with a white-berobed, somewhat prissy Jesus and with Romans clothed in flashy armor, short-shorts and stylish red capes who all speak with the distinct accent of the British upper-crust. No indeed. Careful research had been done -- and the result was a film more concerned with history than histrionics. For example, Romans spoke vernacular Latin, Jews intoned the local dialect of Aramaic, the scenes in Jerusalem and its environs were designed to depict the gritty look and feel of a hard-scrabble first-century town at the ragged edge of the Roman Empire.

In particular, I was told that the scenes depicting the scourging of Jesus, his march to Golgotha and his crucifixion were hard-core to the point of being brutal. No aspect of Jesus' suffering was left to the imagination, friends told me (either in awe or in horror -- sometimes both). You were compelled to witness everything: every blow struck, every welt raised, every wound, every bruise, every nail driven into writhing flesh and especially every aspect of the slow torture and strangulation on the cross. Granted, there were a few quibbles about the accuracy of some of the realism. A few friends who know about these things carped in emails about small, perceived grammatical errors in the spoken Aramaic while others complained that the Romans improperly used "Church Latin" and ought to have been speaking koine Greek, anyway. Still, as far as I could gather, everyone I talked to pretty much conceded the main point: that every effort had been invested by Mel Gibson and his team into making this story of the last hours of the life of Jesus Christ as authentic as such things can be. Even the Pope, according to published accounts, conceded as much when, after a private viewing of the movie, he was overheard to say "It is as it was."(60)

Of course, I (Mr. Squeamish) had no way of judging or weighing just how realistic The Passion was in terms of its portrayal of the suffering and death of Jesus. All I had to go on was the testimony of those brave souls who had borne witness on my behalf. Still, I began to wonder just how real The Passion's realism really was and, upon due consideration, I came up with what I decided might be a good way of testing its authenticity without actually having to see things for myself. So the next time someone came up to ask me if I had seen The Passion, wanting to know what I thought of it, I responded by saying, "No I haven't seen it; but maybe you can help me decide what I think of it." Then I asked the question I had been saving for just this precise, opportune moment:

"Tell me" I said, "were there any flies? …

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